Budgets/Taxes/Economics

RSS Feed for this category

Chronicle AM: Canada Legalization mid-2018?, Christie Named "Drug Commissioner," More... (3/27/17)

Canada says it will legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018; Chris Christie will be named White House "drug commissioner," Illinoisans are ready to legalize weed, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Illinois Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll has support for marijuana legalization at 66% if it is taxed and regulated like alcohol. The poll comes days after legislators filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2353.

Michigan Legalizers Release 2018 Initiative Draft. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has released the latest draft of the cannabis legalization initiative the group hopes to put to voters in November 2018. Under the draft, adults would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and grow up to 12 plants, and marijuana commerce would be taxed and regulated. An initiative campaign last year came up just short in signature gathering.

Nevada Bill Would Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Sell Recreational Weed. State Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) and Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) rolled out Senate Bill 302 last Friday. The bill would allow for an early start to recreational marijuana sales by allowing existing dispensaries to sell to non-patients before the January 1, 2018 deadline set in last fall's voter-approved ballot initiative. The move is aimed at stamping out the black market and allowing the state to get tax revenues. A similar move is afoot at the state Department of Taxation.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Maryland Democrats File Pair of Heroin Bills. Some three dozen Democratic General Assembly members gathered last Friday to announce a pair of bills aimed at fighting rising heroin overdoses in the state. Senate Bill 1060, the Start Talking Maryland Act, would require drug education programs to address the high lethality of fentanyl and colleges that teach medical providers to include addiction treatment education. Senate Bill 967, the Heroin and Opiate Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish 10 heroin crisis centers around the state, as well as easing access to buprenorphine and naloxone.

Asset Forfeiture

Idaho Legislature Gives Final Approval to Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. The House last Friday gave final approval to House Bill 172, which would limit civil asset forfeiture to cases involving drug trafficking -- not simple possession -- and would clarify that simply being in possession of large amounts of cash is not evidence drug trafficking. The House had approved the bill earlier, but had to have a final concurrence vote after amendments were added in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor's desk.

New Mexico Bill That Would Have Directed Seized Funds to Cops Dies. A bill that would have diverted seized assets from the state general fund and given them to law enforcement agencies handling the cases has died in the House, and the cops are unhappy. Senate Bill 202 had passed the Senate unanimously, but couldn't get out of the House Judiciary Committee. "I'm utterly disgusted," said Pecos Valley Drug Task Force Commander James McCormick. "That's just takes away another avenue we have to thwart drug dealing. The money we used to get, we don't have any more."

Drug Policy

Jared Kushner's White House "SWAT Team" Will Include Chris Christie as Drug Commission Chair. The White House "SWAT team" to be led by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and aimed at streamlining policy-making will include an official drug commission to be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The commission will emphasis combating opioid abuse, a favorite theme for Trump.

Law Enforcement

New Hampshire Senate Approves Funding More Troopers to Fight Cross-Border Drugs. The state Senate voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to spend nearly $4.5 million over the next two years to hire five new state troopers to wage war on the state's opioid epidemic by targeting traffic from Massachusetts, expand the "Granite Hammer" program counts to local law enforcement, and pay for overtime for specialized enforcement units such as the State Police and Narcotics Investigation Unit. The measure, Senate Bill 131, is now headed for the House, where it is expected to pass.

NYPD Cop Who Killed Ramarley Graham Quits. Graham, 18, was shot and killed in 2012 by Officer Richard Haste after he fled into his own apartment bathroom and was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down a toilet. Haste avoided criminal charges for the killing, but a departmental trial found him guilty of violating department policies and he was facing firing when he decided to turn in his badge and gun.

International

Canada Will Legalize Marijuana By July 1, 2018. The governing Liberals will announce legislation next month to legalize marijuana, with the new law set to go into effect on Canada Day -- July1 -- next year. The legislation will set 18 as the age limit for legal use and set up a legal, regulated, and taxed system of marijuana commerce. People who want to grow their own will be limited to four plants. [Update: The government's point man on legalization has called this date "highly speculative." Hat tip: Marijuana Moment.]

Chronicle AM: PA Auditor General Calls for Legal MJ, NV Public Consumption Bill, More... (3/7/17)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale comes out for marijuana legalization, citing the tax revenue boost; a bill to limit home cultivation in Colorado advances, the Arizona Senate approves a hemp bill, the Arkansas Senate kills a no-smoking medical marijuana bill, and more.

Pennsylvania's auditor general has reefer dollar signs in his eyes as he calls for legalization. (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill to Limit Home Cultivation Advances. The House Finance Committee voted Monday to approve House Bill 1220, which would limit home grows to 12 plants. Bill sponsors paint it as an effort to prevent diversion to the illegal market, but medical marijuana patients and advocates testified that it could make it difficult for them to grow enough medicine for their needs.

Nevada Bill to Allow Licenses for Public Events With Pot Consumption Filed. The state's leading pro-marijuana reform politician, Sen. Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) filed Senate Bill 236 Monday. The bill, which is not yet available on the legislative website, would allow local governments to issue licenses for one-off events with public pot consumption, as well as licensing pot shops, bars, or other businesses to allow consumption on-premises. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Pennsylvania Auditor Endorses Marijuana Legalization, Says State Could Earn Millions. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D) said Monday he supported marijuana legalization and that the state could generate $200 million a year in tax revenues from it. "The regulation-and-taxation-of-marijuana train has rumbled out of the station across the United States," DePasquale said at a press conference in the state capitol. "The question is whether Pennsylvania is going to miss its stop."

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Senate Kills Bill to Ban Smoking of Medical Marijuana. The Senate voted 15-10 Monday to reject Senate Bill 357, which would have banned smoking medical marijuana. Bill sponsor Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) argued smoking is a public health hazard and that smoking marijuana is a recreational use, not a medicinal one, but his colleagues were not buying his argument.

Hemp

Arizona Senate Passes Hemp Legalization Bill. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 1337, which would authorize industrial hemp production, processing, manufacture, distribution, and sales. It also includes language saying the state cannot prevent hemp commerce merely on the grounds that it is federally illegal.

Drug Policy

West Virginia Bill Would Create Drug Policy Office, Track Overdoses. A bill that would create an office to track fatal drug overdoses passed the House last week and heads to the Senate. House Bill 2620 would provide a central data collection point to track overdoses and arrests in the state. That information could be compiled and used as supporting data in research and as the state applies for federal grant money to combat the state's drug abuse epidemic. The bill is only one of many filed to deal with the opioid problem in the state. Click on the link for more.

Trump Vows to Win War on Drugs, But Doesn't Mention Marijuana [FEATURE]

In his inaugural address to Congress Tuesday night, President Trump echoed the ghosts of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- not to mention summoning the specter of Miguel Cervantes -- as he vowed to defeat drugs.

If there is a silver lining, his ire appears directed at heroin and other hard drugs. The word "marijuana" did not appear once in his speech.

"Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop," he promised as part of a litany of MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN accomplishments to come. ("Dying industries will come roaring back to life. Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need…")

And, having forgotten -- or more likely, never learned -- the lessons of the past half century of American drug prohibition, he's going to defeat drugs the old-fashioned way: with more war on drugs.

"To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime," Trump said. "I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our Nation."

But talk is cheap. Drug law enforcement costs money. The DEA and other federal agencies are already waging a multi-billion dollar a year war on drugs; if Trump's budget proposals match his rhetoric, he will have to be prepared to spend billions more. Just when he wants to cut just about all federal spending but defense, too.

Trump can ratchet up the drug war in some ways without relying on congressional appropriations through his control of the executive branch. For instance, his Justice Department could direct federal prosecutors to seek mandatory minimum prison sentences in most or all drug cases, a practice eschewed by the Obama Justice Department. That, too, has budgetary consequences, but until some time down the road.

Trump did at least pay lip service to addressing drug use as a public health issue, saying he would "expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted," but that doesn't gibe with his call to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If Obamacare is repealed, nearly three million Americans with addiction disorders with lose access to some or all of their health coverage, including nearly a quarter million receiving opioid addiction treatment.

Trump's Tuesday night crime and drug talk was interwoven with talk about the border, comingling immigration, drugs, and his border wall in a hot mess of overheated, but politically useful, rhetoric.

"We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross -- and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate," he said, ignoring the quadrupling in size of the Border Patrol in the past 20 years and the billions pumped into border security since 2001. "We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth."

Trump also said that he was already making America safer with his immigration enforcement actions.

"As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised," he said.

It's too early to see who is actually being deported in the opening days of the Trump administration, but if the past is any indicator, it's not "gang members, drug dealers, and criminals," but, in rank order, people whose most serious crime was crossing the border without papers, alcohol-impaired drivers, other traffic violators, and pot smokers. Those were the four leading charges for criminal immigration deportations in one recent year, according to Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?

Trump's drug war rhetoric is triumphalist and militaristic, but so far it's largely just talk. The proof will be in budget proposals and Justice Department memoranda, but in terms of progressive drug policy, he's striking a very ominous tone. This does not bode well.

Five Reasons Trump Needs to Think Twice Before Waging War on Weed

White House press secretary Sean Spicer's comment last week that we "will see greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition has set off tremors in the pot industry, but it should be setting off warning bells at the White House itself.

Going after legal marijuana will have serious political and economic ramifications. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Any move against marijuana would be politically fraught, economically foolish, and counter to some of the Trump administration's other expressed goals, such as fighting Mexican drug cartels and creating American jobs right here in America.

Here are five reasons the Trump administration needs to think twice before its meddles with legal marijuana:

1. Legal marijuana is way more popular than Trump is. A Quinnipiac poll released last week is only the latest of a long series of polls in recent years showing majority support for marijuana legalization. That poll had nearly three out of five Americans -- 59% -- down with freeing the weed. And more directly to the political point, an even higher number -- 71% -- want the federal government to butt out in states where it is legal. Trump, meanwhile, is polling in the thirties or forties in personal popularity polls. And we know he wants to be liked.

2. Trump can't make legal marijuana go away; he can only mess it up. Even if Jeff Sessions lives up to marijuana industry nightmare scenarios by successfully shutting down pot businesses and preventing states from taxing and regulating it, marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use will remain legal under state law. The federal government cannot force state and local police to enforce federal marijuana prohibition and it does not have the resources to effectively do so itself. People will continue to grow and possess pot in legal states, and continue to sell it -- only now all that activity will return to the black market.

3. Legal marijuana is a job creation dynamo. The marijuana industry already employs more than 100,000 people and, if left unimpeded, would create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020, according to a recent report from New Frontier Data. That report projects that 250,000 jobs would be created in the industry by 2020, while Bureau of Labor statistics project than 800,000 manufacturing jobs are going to vanish by 2024. And new jobs are way more likely to pop up in marijuana processing operations than in coal fields.

4. Legal marijuana is a tax bonanza for the states. In Colorado, the state took in $200 million in pot tax revenues in 2016, using it for schools and public health and safety, Oregon took in $60 million, and Washington saw $35 million in the last fiscal year. In California, the Legislative Analyst's Office estimates legal weed will generate $1 billion in tax revenues per year. An awful lot of fiscal conservatives are very happy to see those revenues.

5. Legal marijuana hurts drug cartels. If the Trump administration wants to hurt Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels, not interfering with legal competition from this side of the border is a good way to do that. Mexican brick weed is not, of course, the sole source of cartel revenues, but it is a significant one, accounting for perhaps a fifth of cartel receipts, and legalization is hurting cartel marijuana exports. Seizures at the border have dropped by nearly two thirds in recent years, from a high of 3.5 million pounds in 2009 to only 1.5 million pounds in 2015, and there are many stories of Mexican pot farmers being driven out of business by competition from the north.

In the Time of Trump, Can Congress Take the Lead on Marijuana Policy? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

While the marijuana community -- consumers, industry, and advocates alike -- eyes with trepidation the reign of avowed drug warrior Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, the Trump executive branch isn't the only game in town when it comes to making marijuana policy. Congress is back in session, and after last November's legalization and medical marijuana victories at the polls, the pot state delegation is larger than ever.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (house.gov)
And at least some of those senators and congressmen and women representing the 28 states (and the District of Columbia) that have embraced medical marijuana and the eight states plus DC that have so far gone for adult legalization, are gearing up to fight for reform at the Capitol.

A nascent congressional Cannabis Caucus formed in December is preparing a plethora of bills for the current session, and its members say they are optimistic about their chances, even in the time of Trump -- and Republicans holding every committee chair in both houses. It's because Congress is riding the marijuana wave, too, said caucus founder and co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

"This Congress is going to be a little better than last Congress, and last Congress was better than the one before that," he said in an interview this week with The Cannabist. "It's very interesting watching the momentum build."

That momentum derives from public opinion polls consistently showing nationwide majorities favoring legalization and, more importantly, the actual victories at the polls in November, where legalization went four for five and medical marijuana went four for four.

"It's easier for people to embrace much of what we're doing legislatively," he said. Fixing industry-critical concerns such as the lack of operating expense deductions or access to financial services for state-legal businesses or barriers to medical marijuana research are now mere "housekeeping" issues, he added.

Nonetheless, fixes still have to get through the Congress. They haven't so far, and it's a long way between filing a bill and seeing it signed into law. Still, Blumenauer and colleagues will be pushing harder than ever.

He is joined in the Cannabis Caucus by co-chairs Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Don Young (R-AL). The bipartisan grouping is notably made up of representatives from vanguard legalization states, but by no means all of them -- California alone has 53 House members -- and there is certainly room for more to come on board.

"I'm more hopeful than ever before that we can move legislation like the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," Polis told The Cannabist, referring to last session's H.R. 1013, which picked up 19 cosponsors and was referred to a slew of subcommittees, but never even got a hearing.

Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (house.gov)
That bill was one of about two dozen pot-related proposals filed in the last session, and they're already starting to pile up again this session. While Blumenauer told The Cannabist more were to come, here's what's on the table so far:

H.R. 331 -- Filed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the States' Medical Marijuana Rights Protection Act would block federal civil asset forfeiture aimed at the owners of state-legal medical marijuana operations.

H.R. 714 -- Filed by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act would move marijuana to the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule II, opening the door to more research and, potentially, doctors' ability to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana for patients. It would also bar the use of that act or the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

H.R. 715 -- Also filed by Rep. Griffith, the Compassionate Access Act would reschedule marijuana, provide for its medical use under state laws, and remove CBD (cannabidiol) from the definition of marijuana.

H.R. 975 -- Filed by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Rohrabacher, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would exempt people and entities from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act if they are acting in compliance with state laws. Rohrabacher authored similar legislation in the last Congress, garnering 20 cosponsors, including seven Republicans.

There is no outright federal marijuana legalization bill out there yet this session, but expect to see Rep. Polis come back with his bill or perhaps Bernie Sanders reviving his bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, or both. Given political realities on the Hill, though, the Cannabis Caucus will likely save its political capital for fights it might be able to win, such as fixing the tax and banking problems facing the industry.

Another key battleground -- and one where marijuana advocates have actually won before -- is the appropriations process. The Justice Department and the DEA can't go after marijuana in legal states if Congress bars them from spending any federal funds to do so, and that's exactly what Congress did when it approved the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment last session.

If a similar amendment were to succeed again, even if Attorney General Sessions wanted to call out the cavalry, he couldn't buy the horse feed, and it wouldn't matter how many nasty memos his deputies wrote.

And while his past pronouncements are indeed worrisome, he was quite coy at his nomination hearings, saying that he "won't commit to never enforcing federal law," but adding that enforcement priorities are "a problem of resources for the federal government."

Sessions did add later in the hearings that it's not "the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce," but suggested that his former colleagues could settle things once and for all.

Does new Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to punt pot policy back to Congress? (senate.gov)
"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act," he said. "If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass the law to change the rule."

And then there's Sessions' boss, President Trump. While he projects a law and order image and has campaigned against "drugs," the drugs he seems most concerned about are heroin and the prescription opioids -- not pot. He's also suggested in the past a willingness to let states experiment on marijuana policy, and he has a lot of other things on his plate. It's not at all clear he would let Sessions unleash a war on weed even if he wanted to.

Earl Blumenauer doesn't think Trump wants to charge into this particular melee.

"This is a struggle and will continue to be, but this is something where I honestly don't think the new administration, which has probably enough controversy on its hands, is going to knowingly pick a fight with what, almost without exception, was approved by local voters," Blumenauer said.

To ensure that Sessions doesn't strike out, "we need to make the case directly to Trump" about the economic potential of the marijuana industry, said Polis. But until federal marijuana prohibition is ended, "the industry really exists at the discretion of the president and the attorney general, and that's a dangerous place to be," he added.

Well, and Congress, too. It holds the purse strings, after all.

Marijuana policy is going to be at play in the 115th Congress. Ending federal prohibition remains the Holy Grail, but in the meantime, there are concrete actions Congress can take to protect medical and legal marijuana and the industry it's creating. Now, let's see if the Cannabis Caucus can lead the way to some victories.

North Americans Are Spending Nearly as Much on Weed as They Do on Wine

Move over, Napa Valley, there's a new kid on the block. When it comes to spending on mind-altering substances, Americans and Canadians are shelling out just about as much for marijuana as they do for wine.

The bud of the herb is catching up with the fruit of the vine. (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
In its executive summary of a yet-to-be-released report, Arcview Marijuana Research pegs the size of the North American marijuana market -- legal and illegal -- at $53.3 billion, which puts it roughly even with the market in wine. According to Statista, US retail wines sales sit at $55.8 billion, and Canadian government figures put sales there at $3.2 billion.

Weed has not yet overtaken wine, but it's damned close. And this is happening in a marijuana market that is still mostly illegal. Yes, Canada will legalize marijuana, but it hasn't done so yet. And yes, more than half the states allow medical marijuana and eight of them have legalized it for adults, but illegal sales still account for 87% of the market, according to Arcview.

For Arcview CEO Troy Dayton, the huge illegal market is not a bane, but a boon.

"The enormous amount of existing, if illicit, consumer spending sets cannabis apart from most other major consumer-market investment opportunities throughout history," he explained. "In contrast to comparable markets with fast growth from zero to tens of billions in recent decades such as organic foods, home video, mobile, or the internet, the cannabis industry doesn’t need to create demand for a new product or innovation -- it just needs to move demand for an already widely-popular product into legal channels."

As the adult use markets in the newest legal US states (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) and Canada are established, Arcview predicts the illegal market's share of total sales to decline. The legal market should grow from $6.9 billion last year to $21.6 billion by 2021. But even then, Arcview says, the black market will still account for two-thirds of all sales.

That's because black market operators in states that have not legalized even medical marijuana, not to mention recreational weed, will continue to thrive on an "illegality premium" or "prohibition tax" built into black market prices with no competition from legal operators.

Conversely, state-legalized sales also include an illegality premium due to federal law, and businesses are unable to reap the efficiencies of scale that fully legal businesses are able to. The marijuana prices of tomorrow may be markedly lower than the marijuana prices of today, which could mean a smaller market eventually if measured by dollars spent, even if it is larger in terms of number of customers.

Stil the marijuana market is huge by any meausre, and it's not going away -- despite what happens in Washington, DC. That's something to ponder as you sip your Chablis.

Chronicle AM: N. Am. Illegal MJ Market $50+ Billion, AR/ND/ MedMJ Delay Bills, More... (1/18/17)

A new report finds illegal weed is a $50 billion business in North America, Denver begins working on its "social use" ordinance, state legislators move to slow the implementation of medical marijuana, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Estimate Puts Size of North American Pot Market at More Than $50 Billion. A new report from the Arcview Market Research group puts the size of the North American legal marijuana market at $6.9 billion, which is overwhelmed by the $46.4 billion dollar illicit market. Black market marijuana is bigger than wine, which comes in at $38 billion.

States' Effort to Undo Colorado Pot Law Revived. A panel of judges from the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard arguments Tuesday in a case brought by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado's marijuana law. The hearing suggested judges were open to considering RICO charges against dispensary operators and marijuana cultivation operations. Any decision on the case could take months.

Nevada Governor Announces 10% Excise Tax on Recreational Marijuana. In his final budget speech, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) announced a 10% excise tax on pot to help support his new budget, which is up 10% from last year's. There's already a 15% is already in place for wholesale purchases, and dispensary operators worry that additional taxes could make the black market stronger.

Denver Begins Work on Allowing Pot Use in Clubs, Other Businesses. A working group of Denver business owners, city regulators, and marijuana foes met together Wednesday to begin crafting regulations to implement the city's voter-approved "social use" ordinance, which will allow clubs, coffee shops, yoga studios, and other businesses to allow marijuana consumption on premises. There is no deadline for finalizing the rules, but advocates hope the city will start accepting applications by the summer.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Approves Medical Marijuana Delay. The House voted Tuesday to approve a proposal that would delay implementation of the state's new medical marijuana law. The measure is House Bill 1026. The bill bumps back a 120-deadline from Election Day for the state to issue dispensary and cultivation licenses to 180 days.

Florida Regulators Issue Draft Medical Marijuana Rules; Initiative Backers Cry Foul. State health officials released draft rules Tuesday for the state's voter-approved medical marijuana program, but that draft largely leaves current vendors with a stranglehold on the state's industry by applying current laws to the constitutional amendment approved in November, and that isn't sitting well with the people who sponsored the Amendment 2 initiative. "The rule is basically ignoring the text of the constitutional amendment at almost every point of the way," said Ben Pollara, campaign manager of the political committee backing the amendment. The health department will hold public hearings to take input on the rule during the second week of February, with meetings in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee.

North Dakota Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Delay Bill. The state Senate voted 45-0 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 2154, which would delay some provisions of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law. Senate leaders said the delay is necessary to develop rules and regulations for the program. The bill now goes to the House.

Law Enforcement

LEAP Changes Its Name, But Not Its Acronym. The drug reform police group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has now changed its name to the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. "For more than a year, our board and staff have been hard at work to expand into the broader field of criminal justice reform while maintaining a keen focus on our drug policy work. Not only will this expanded scope be a natural fit for our speakers' criminal justice expertise, but it will also help us to become even more effective at moving the drug policy reform conversation forward. And, when you care about something, you want it to be the best it can be. With the right criminal justice reforms, we can do better, for ourselves and for our communities. Our new name reflects the core of our organization," the group said.

New Mexico Bill Would Expand DUI to Include Drugs. Rep. William Rehm (R-Albuquerque) has filed a bill that would target "drugged driving" by setting blood concentration levels similar to those for alcohol for five drugs: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamine, and methamphetamine. The measure is House Bill 22. But the Drug Policy Alliance, which has opposed similar bills in the past, is raising concerns about this one as well, saying it puts tens of thousands of medical marijuana patients at risk of arrest by setting THC limits unsupported by scientific research.

Book Review: "Marijuana: A Short History" by John Hudak

Marijuana: A Short History by John Hudak (2016, Brookings Institution Press, 217 pp., $14.95 PB)

Marijuana is going mainstream, as evidenced by the spread of medical marijuana and now outright legalization, not to mention its pervasive and increasingly favorable position in popular culture. In the past 20 years, support for legalization has grown from a distinct minority position to a majority one, and now, after November's elections, more than half the states have approved medical marijuana and nearly one out of six Americans lives in a state where it is legal.

Marijuana is now also big business, with industry watchers estimating the size of the legal market at around $20 billion by 2020. There's one problem with such rosy scenarios, though: Pot remains illegal under federal law.

That's a big problem for John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution with a keen professional interest in public policy implementation, legislative-executive relations, and marijuana policy. In Marijuana: A Short History, Hudak takes marijuana legalization as pretty much a given -- provided it isn't screwed up too badly in implementation -- and sees federal marijuana prohibition largely as an obstacle to getting pot policy right.

He sketches out the strange place we now find ourselves, with a booming industry enriching state tax coffers at the same time it remains federally illegal, and a federal government largely turning a blind eye to the violations of federal law -- at least for now -- while at the same time refusing to allow that industry the banking privileges and tax breaks provided to legal businesses. Meanwhile, marijuana sellers become Chamber of Commerce members in some states and prison inmates in others.

Hudak describes the growing tension between legalization in the states and federal prohibition as challenging federal authority while also hampering the efficient functioning of the marijuana industry. In his view, we're now in a sort of "worst of both worlds" status quo:

"The resulting situation in the United States may be worse than either national legalization or national prohibition. Legal realities are loosely defined by executive branch guidance and suggestions from the administration. This guidance fails to answer important questions and oftentimes creates new ones. States are constantly asking the federal government how to deal with many of the problems they face; the answers are almost always insufficient. Members of Congress have proposed solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing states, industry actors, and consumers, but that legislation is not acted on."

"The reality is that the state of American law at the start of 2016 is absolutely untenable and is inconsistent with American principles of fairness and equal treatment. Federal officials must commit themselves to coherent, comprehensive, and sensible marijuana policy. Until they do, the system will be arbitrary and unjust, and policy will be ineffective."

Now, at the start of 2017, the tensions Hudak highlights are even more acute, and the November elections brought them to the fore. At the same time the legal recreational market quintupled in size with victories in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, the nation elected Donald Trump, whose attorney general pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is an avowed foe of legalization and drug law reform in general.

Trump himself has said he favors letting the states experiment, but the billion-dollar question is whether Trump is going to set pot policy or leave it to his minions. If it's the latter, legal marijuana may be in for a bumpy ride, but even if it's the latter, that's just the political status quo.

That isn't enough for Hudak. He wants things settled at the federal level through congressional action, not left to the administrative whim of some officeholder. Whether the next few years is going to bring us any closer to Hudak's prescription for pot policy perfection is an open question, and it's sure to be contested political terrain.

Hudak raises the right questions about marijuana's future, but make no mistake, Marijuana: A Short History is by no mean all wonkery. After all, Hudak is writing a history, and he does just that in a concise and lively manner, concentrating on the 20th Century in the US, a period that saw the long arc of marijuana prohibition peak before the decline it now faces in the early years of the 21st Century. Of special interest is his section on the rise of a successfully reform movement, as he zeroes in on the people and strategies that made it happen.

Okay, Marijuana: A Short History is pretty wonky. It's serious stuff with a serious purpose: getting us down the path to a sane and effective marijuana policy nationwide. People with an interest in marijuana and marijuana legalization need to be thinking about these things, and Hudak is going to reward a serious reader. And he isn't going to make you slog through 400 pages of academic prose along the way. Read it; it'll make you think.

The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2016 [FEATURE]

(See our Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2016 feature story too.)

The year that just ended has seen a serious outbreak of bloody violence against drug users and sellers in one country, it has seen drug offenders hung by the hundreds in another, it has seen efforts to fight the spread of drug-related HIV/AIDS falter for lack of funding, and it has seen the tenacity of the prohibitionist apparatus in the halls of the United Nations.

But there was also good news emanating from various corners of the world, including advances in marijuana legalization in Canada, the US, and Europe and the flouting of the proscription against the coca trade in the UN anti-drug treaties. And speaking of treaties, alhough we didn't include it this year because the drug policy implications remain unclear, the fruition of years'-long peace negotiations between Colombia and the leftist rebels of the FARC, which brings an end to the Western hemisphere's longest-running guerrilla war, is certainly worth noting.

Here are the ten most notable international drug policy events of 2016, the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs saw progress, but achingly little. (Wikimedia.org)
1. The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs

The global prohibitionist consenus was under growing strain at the UNGASS on Drugs, as civil society pressed the UN bureaucracy and member states for reforms as never before. But changes come at a glacial pace at the level of global diplomacy, and the vision of the UNGASS as a platform for discussing fundamental issues and plotting a new course ran up against the resistance of drug war hard-liners like Russia and China, and the studied indifference of European governments, who preferred that the UN drug policy center of gravity remain at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. And while the US delegation advocated for some good stances, it, too, opposed any meddling with the trio of UN conventions that form the legal backbone of global drug prohibition.

Still, there were some incremental victories. UN agencies submitted their own position papers, many highly progressive, as were the submissions from some countries and international organizations. EU states and others fought hard for language opposing the death penalty for drug offenses, though unsuccessfully. And while the UNGASS Outcome Document avoids most big issues, it puts strong emphasis on treatment and alternatives to incarceration. It acknowledges the importance of human rights and proportionate sentencing. It has support for naloxone (the overdose antidote), medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone and buprenorphine), and safe injecting equipment, though avoiding the term "harm reduction" itself. And it calls for addressing obstacles to opioid availability. (Read a detailed report on UNGASS by some of our colleagues here, and read about some of our own work for the UNGASS here.)

2. Global Harm Reduction for AIDS Remains Tragically Underfunded, and Facing Worse. Despite the repeatedly-proven positive impact of harm reduction measures in reducing the spread and prevalence of HIV/AIDS, donors continue to refuse to pony up to pay for such measures. The UNAIDS program estimates that $2.3 billion was needed to fund AIDS-related harm reduction programs last year, but only $160 million was actually invested by donors as most member states cut their aid levels. That's only 7% of the requested funding level. That's after 2015 saw the first drop in support in five years (see pages 21-22) in funding for AIDS efforts in low- and middle-income countries. The world spends an estimated $100 billion a year on fighting drugs, but it can't come up with 2.3% of that figure to fight drug-related AIDS harms. Harm Reduction International has proposed a "10x20" shift of 10% of law enforcement funding toward harm reduction services by 2020 to address the gap.

Harm reduction's global funding challenges are further impacted by the global AIDS-fighting budget, which has taken a hit as the rise in the dollar has reduced the spending power of contributions from donor countries that use other currencies. Even worse, many of the countries currently benefiting from UN harm reduction funding have progressed economically to a point at which they are supposed to begin funding their own programs according to the UN development framework. But that may not be a realistic expectation, especially for the sometimes politically fraught programs needed to address disease transmission related to drug use.

3. America's Most Populous State Legalizes Marijuana, and So Do Several More. You know the global prohibitionist consensus is crumbling when the rot sets in at home, and that's what happened in November's US elections. California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts all voted to legalize marijuana, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, which had led the way in 2012 and 2014. Now, some 50 million Americans live in pot-legal states, and that's going to mean increasing pressure on the government in Washington to end federal pot prohibition. It's also an example to the rest of the world.

4. Europe's Prohibitionist Consensus Begins Crumbling Around the Edges. No European nation has legalized marijuana, but signs are increasing that somebody is going to do it soon. If 2016 was any indication, the best candidates may be Italy, where a broadly supported legalization bill got a parliamentary hearing this year before surprise election results upset the country's political apple cart; Germany, where "legalization is in the air" as Berlin moves toward allowing cannabis coffee shops and Dusseldorf moves toward total marijuana legalization; and Denmark, where Copenhagen is trying yet again to legalize weed. In both Denmark and Germany, legalization isn't currently favored by the central governments, while in Italy, everything is in limbo after Europe's populist uprising swept the prime minister out of office. Still, the pressure is mounting in Europe.

Amsterdam's famed cannabis coffee houses look set to final get a legal source of supply. (Wikimedia.org)
5. The Dutch Are Finally Going to Do Something About the "Back Door Problem." The Dutch have allowed for the sale of marijuana at "coffee shops" since the 1980s, but never made any provision for a legal pot supply for retailers. Now, after 20 years of blocking any effort to decriminalize marijuana production, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party has had a change of heart. At a party conference in November, the VVD voted to support "smart regulation" of marijuana and "to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs." The full text of the resolution, supported by 81% of party members, reads: "While the sale of cannabis is tolerated at the front door, stock acquisition is now illegal. The VVD wants to end this strange situation and regulate the policy on soft drugs in a smarter way. It's time to redesign the entire domain surrounding soft drugs. This redevelopment can only take place on a national level. Municipalities should stop experiments with cannabis cultivation as soon as possible." The opposition political parties are already in support of solving the long-lived "back door problem."

6. Canada's Move Toward Marijuana Legalization Continues Apace. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals swept the Tories out of power in October 2015 with a platform that included a clear-cut call for marijuana legalization. Movement toward that goal has been slow but steady, with the task force charged with clearing the way calling for wide-ranging legalization in a report report issued in December. The Liberals say they expect to file legalization bills in the parliament this spring, and Canada remains on track to free the weed.

7. Bolivia Ignores UN Drug Treaty, Agrees to Export Coca to Ecuador. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca grower union leader himself, opened the year campaigning to decriminalize the coca trade and closed it without waiting for the UN to act by inking an agreement with Ecuador to export coca there. The agreement would appear to violate the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans the export of coca leaf because it contains the cocaine alkaloid, but neither Bolivia nor Ecuador seem to care.

Mexico's latest drug war marked its 10th anniversary last month. (Wikimedia.org)
8. Mexico Marks a Decade of Brutal Drug Wars. In December, 2006, then-President Felipe Calderon sent the Mexican army into the state of Michoacan in what he said was a bid to get serious about fighting the drug trade. It didn't work, and in fact, led to the worst prohibition-related violence in the country's history, with an estimated 100,000 + killed and tens of thousands more gone missing. Attention to the cartel wars peaked in 2012, which was a presidential election year in both the US and Mexico, and the level of killing declined after that, but has now risen back to those levels. Calderon's replacement, Enrique Pena Nieto, has publicly deemphasized the drug war, but has not substantially shifted the policy. The arrest of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has weakened his cartel, but that has only led to more violence as new competitors vie for supremacy.

There are signs of hope on the policy front though, if early ones, with medical marijuana being implemented, attitudes toward legalization softening, and the government playing a role in forwarding the international debate on drug policy reform.

9. Iran Has Second Thoughts About the Death Penalty for Drugs. The Islamic Republic is perhaps the world's leading drug executioner, with drug offenders accounting for the vast majority of the more than a thousand people it executed in 2015 (2016 numbers aren't in yet), but there are increasing signs the regime could change course. In November, the parliament agreed to expedite deliberations on a measure that would dramatically limit the number of people facing execution for drugs. Now, the proposal will get top priority in the Legal and Social Affairs Committee before heading before the full parliament. The measure would limit the death penalty to "organized drug lords," "armed trafficking," "repeat offenders," and "bulk drug distributors."

10. The Philippines Wages a Bloody War on Drug Users and Sellers. With the election of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president, the country descended into a veritable blood-bath, as police and "vigilantes" seemingly competed to see who could kill more people faster. Duterte has brushed off criticism from the US, the UN, and human rights groups, and even insulted his critics, although he did have kind words to say about Donald Trump, who had kind words to say about him. As of year's end, the death toll was around 6,000, with the vigilantes claiming a slight lead over the cops.

Chronicle AM: Organic Foods Group Disses Kratom, DPA Releases Opioids Plan, More... (12/7/16)

An organic foods group says allowing kratom would be "dangerous," the Drug Policy Alliance comes out with a plan for heroin and prescription opioids, Iowa shuts down its asset forfeiture unit, and more.

The Natural Products Association says allowing kratom would be "dangerous." (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Arrests Plummet. Marijuana arrests have dropped 14% in the state over the past two years, the largest decline this century, and they appear headed for further declines this year. Changes in prosecutorial priorities appear to be behind the fall, with some prosecutors saying they need to husband their resources for felony prosecutions.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Policy Alliance Releases Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose. The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading proponent of drug policy reform, is releasing a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose (now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States). The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of US drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose. The plan has 20 specific recommendations, including establishing safe injection sites, moving ahead with prescription heroin (heroin-assisted treatment), and embracing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to keep people out of the criminal justice system and bring them in contact with social services.

Kratom

Natural Products Association Says Allowing Kratom Would Be "Dangerous." The largest trade group representing the organic and natural foods industry and dietary supplements makers has commented on the DEA's proposed ban on kratom, saying that "adding kratom to the US food supply could likely be dangerous and lead to serious unintended consequences." Kratom products have not met the strict standards for new items to be marketed to the public or undergone FDA approval, the group said. "Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal," said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, NPA's CEO and executive director. "It could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction."

Asset Forfeiture

Iowa Disbands State Asset Forfeiture Team, Returns $60,000 Taken From Travelers. Under increasing fire over asset forfeiture practices that saw a thousand seizures a year, the state Attorney General's Office announced Monday that the Department of Public Safety had disbanded its Interstate 80 drug interdiction and forfeiture team. The move came because of increased personnel demands and the need to focus on reducing traffic deaths, the office said, and had nothing to do with the recently announced settlement of a lawsuit brought by a pair of California gamblers who had $100,000 seized after they were stopped and a small amount of marijuana was found. That settlement resulted in the men getting most of their money back.

Law Enforcement

Justice Department Probing Possible Criminal Charges Over Atlanta DEA Informants. A DEA official told a congressional committee last week that the agency has referred "potential criminal charges" to the Justice Department over an Atlanta DEA supervisor who allegedly was in sexual relationships with two informants, one of whom was paid $212,000 for helping to bust four St. Louis drug traffickers. There are allegations of false documentation of payments to the snitch, who got $2,500 a month for two years, along with two "bonuses" of $55,000 and $80,750. The monthly payments apparently covered the rent for apartment near the DEA supervisor's home in the Atlanta metro area.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School